I was six-years-old, on my way to a new school, when my mother’s car hit the curb.
It wasn’t a car accident, but it was unusual. A day later, she quit driving.
Being six, I didn’t understand what was going on—just that my mother was no longer going to be driving me around. Instead a teacher came, every morning to come collect me.
My mother starting asking me for more help around the house—carrying groceries, picking things up off the floor, dusting and cutting the vegetables. I didn’t understand what was happening, but I was happy that I was learning how to cook.
When I was seven-years-old I had my big birthday celebration in a pottery store. I got to paint my own plate and I was the happiest little girl. But my mother came in a wheelchair. It was sometime during that party that started to understand the whispers of adults—something was wrong.
Kids aren’t stupid—they hear what grownups try to hide.
But there was smiling. There was happy chatter.
I was seven and half when the paramedics showed up at our door, to take her away.
The blue and red lights flashed against my wall through my window. Her fever was 104°F.
I hid under a blanket. My father was at work, the only one lucky enough to miss this horrific scene, and my aunt went with the ambulance, so I was alone. I stood in the middle of the landing, staring at the closed door, blanket in hand. I wondered if she’d ever come home.
I was eight when she was officially moved out of the ICU, where she had been for six months. They moved her into the nursing home. She was the youngest one there.
For a-year-and-a-half she remained. She had lost her mobility, her speech, her ability to write—everything that she loved. But even on her deathbed, she tried to be happy. She never stopped smiling, even if she couldn’t physically smile anymore. She tried to make her pain unnoticeable.
I was nine-and-a-half when she passed away. I was the only one to wear white to the funeral.
I pretended that I didn’t understand what death was—it was easier on the adults that way.
But the truth was, I did. I did understand in the best way that nine-year-olds know how. I knew my mother wasn’t coming back. I knew that this fact caused immeasurable amount of damage to my father’s heart. I knew that I was motherless.
It’s been 15 years now.
15 plus years since that night with the blue and red lights. 15 years without my mother’s voice on the other end of the phone chattering away about crushes or gossip, 15 years without photo albums filled with memories, 15 years where my mother’s closet has remained exactly how she left it—untouched.
As I sit on the landing now, I look around and realize how much this house, how much my life, how much my family’s life, has changed.
I sit and look back on my time with my mother. The six full years that I had and the nine overall. The good times—the laughter, the happy chatter, the crayons spread across the living room floor, the sun streaking through the window on a weekend morning resembling fairy dust, the pitter-patter of feet as they splashed through puddles, shrieking with laughter.
Then there are the more reserved times—sitting in church on the little red pew, legs swinging, crayons in hand, coloring in Moses as he walked through the waves, while my mother stood, quietly singing a hymn with the others.
Other times listening to the rain—watching the lightening flash across the sky—and the bedtime stories—she often read The Little House on the Prairie, or from the Big Book of Virtues.
All of my moments with her held teachable lessons, little droplets of wisdom that a mother shared with her child.
Even on her deathbed, when her life was the hardest, she fought for me, her child. She fought to continue to teach in situation that was next to unbearable. She taught me how to be strong and resilient in even the toughest of cases. She set me up for the life that was ahead of me—to venture gracefully into the cruel world.
I’ll always treasure her greatest gift to me—her strength.
Author: Josefina Hunter
Apprentice Editor: Kara Bezuko/Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock